Dispute Aside, Ly Yong Phat Builds Sugar Refinery

CPP Senator and agribusiness operator Ly Yong Phat has broken ground on Cambodia’s first locally owned sugar refinery on his massive Kompong Speu su­gar plantation, the site of an ongoing land dispute.

Mr Yong Phat said yesterday that the refinery was set to open in early 2012 and would sit on the 20,000-hectare sugar plantation spanning Omlaing, Oral and Thpong districts that is owned jointly by his Phnom Penh Sugar Company and his wife’s Kom­pong Speu Sugar Company.

“It is the first sugar refining plant that is 100 percent owned by a Cambodian investor, being me,” he said of the $150 million project.

Mr Yong Phat said he expected to eventually employ at least 8,000 people on the plantation and inside a factory—which broke ground in November—that will process up to 6,000 tons of high-quality sugar a day for domestic and foreign markets.

“The target market is Cam­bodia, which is why we are building a modern factory that can produce quality sugar that will attract local consumers and compete with imported sugar from countries around the world,” he said.

“The cost of production will be cheaper because of the new technology and modern equipment,” Mr Yong Phat added.

“The price will not be a problem because our factory is not going to face the vital issue of high expenses due to transportation costs,” he said.

But local farmers say they still have an unsettled dispute with the senator. About 700 families in Omlaing commune claim that his plantation has encroached on their rightful farmland.

Though the Agriculture Min­istry ordered the plantation cut down in April to 16,000 hectares, locals say the dispute continues.

“We are not opposed to the company building a sugar factory or planting sugar plants,” said You Thou, a villager representative. “But the construction of this factory is taking place on disputed land, and we don’t know whether the factory will hire the land protesters to work.”

At least two farmers have been charged with land encroachment by the provincial court since October.

Others have been called in for questioning. Mr Thou said none have been arrested yet, but he called on local authorities to speed up efforts to swap their disputed farmland for property elsewhere.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said the firm has even built a concrete fence preventing vehicles from ac­cessing the disputed land.

“Of course the factory will prove great job opportunities, I agree, but it is too early to begin construction, when the dispute has yet to be settled in favor of the affected farmers,” he said.

Mr Yong Phat dismissed the accusations yesterday and claimed that each and every family had already been fully compensated with new farmland.

And because the plantation surrounding the factory would not be able to meet all the refinery’s needs, he said his firm had also started training another 1,000 farmers in the latest methods of sugarcane cultivation.

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